Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety-nine.
Tonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we tell the tale of a mother outcast in a haunted world, and the strange roads down which her choices would lead her.
Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
In those dark times there was no gentle path for a solitary mother living a nomadic life, but the tricks and skills the woman had gathered through her youth were just as pliable beyond the boundaries of the county in which she was raised.
The old Roman roads were not so old when she began, and she slipped from the vineyards of the west to the steppes of the east just as a wind shifts and stirs at its own command.
Nona had bestowed a keen eye for comfortable hedges and the signs of a welcoming dooryard, but it was not long before the softest turf and sweetest bites of stolen pie were reserved entirely for her ever-growing infant.
There was little security in her position, and she received no small abuse from those villages that wished to claim a righteous position. Oft was the night that she slept fitfully on a spine bruised by flung stone. No family requiring her discreet service in dispatching an unwanted lump left by a lustful evening wished her to remain longer than necessary, and it was rare that a household besieged by supernatural threat was in any condition to host once she’d cast out the imp or phantasm that had assaulted it.
No matter the bramble or stolen hayloft in which they slumbered, however, the woman would not let her child slip into sleep without his hearing the refrain of her love. There was no joy without him, there was no road worth taking. A whiff of his infant skin was enough to drive the cow dung scent from any barn, and to make comfortable whatever awkward pose she might be required to maintain so that he might snore soundly in her arms.
In time, she herself took to wearing a triple-belt across her chest. The boy quickly learned to name and pluck those roots and petals that could be of use, and it was not unusual for the pair to pass a day without a meal they had not pulled from the wild dirt.
Yet, there were advantages to setting her own course. Few were the winter months she spent in snowy lands, and there was no rumour of arcane knowledge she could not chase.
There was an ancient deaf man who imparted the secret of how to entreat with the Animal Lords in exchange for an illumination trick she’d learned at thirteen, and an oracle on the shores of the western sea who recounted the ritual to summon a lightning elemental as barter for the skulls of a dozen murderers.
The Mother had simply made use of a long knife and the conveniently hung bandits that lined the highways as warning. She had not inquired as to the collection’s purpose.
In a damp Mediterranean necropolis she came across a chiseled inscription in a marble sepulcher. It required two years of learning a dead language, but she considered herself lucky in having a monk to blackmail over the problem of a village girl she’d formerly been called to aid.
It was this engraving from which she learned the art of raising the departed. Not their spirits, perhaps, but at least their corpses.
Here then, was a true secret, and from the age of six through eleven, the boy was shown a goodly life. It was an easy thing to terrify a town into a stiff fee by sending its recently interred citizens cavorting through the central square, and – be the tale vampires or ghouls or vengeful shades – the greater her reputation grew as an exorcist, the more plush their pillows became.
She began to take what Nona had refused – but not for herself, for the boy.
A renowned tailor found his daughter visiting his window as he cowered in his bed, and the lad found himself in a new suit of fine purple velvet. A cordwainer’s mother insisted on marching repeatedly from her grave to the local tavern, and the youth began to travel in supple leather boots.
By the eve of his twelfth birthday their bellies no longer went unfilled, and the child had taken to riding a small pony between preoccupations.
It was upon the back of the beast which he was perched when the townspeople of Ibsil rose up. Perhaps it was the boy’s display of finery in comparison to their own muck-covered rags that put the question of fraud in their mind, but, whatever the case, a close watch by soft footed deer hunters had turned out the woman’s proximity on the third afternoon of a beloved blacksmith’s rising.
The doting mother had become especially brazen in her methods, as the dead man in question had, in the year before his passing, crafted a sword of some reputation that her son wished to receive as reward for their supposed-intervention – but the daylight timing mixed with the nervous crowd to leave many at hand willing to lift stones against them.
Her leg’s were strong, however, and the pony well-shoed – nor was it the first flight of rocks she had endured. She was giggling by the time they reached the cart path bend that marked the township’s boundary, as there were but a straggle of hard-willed delinquents left at their rear, and those too busy attempting to find ammunition with which to maintain their barrage.
It was a last effort missile by a farmer’s son of especially thick arm that struck the little prince from his steed – but it was not the projectile itself that did him in, it was the short fall to the hard path below that snapped his neck.
All that came after was due to nothing more than a coincidence of angle and unconsciousness.
Surprised at their own success, and suddenly realizing just how far from the comfort of their homes they’d wandered, the pursuers scattered, leaving the grieving woman to weep over the broken body of her boy.
It is said that she did not stand again until she’d torn every strand of hair from her scalp in despair, and that those tufts that would eventually regrow would only come back as ivory as a bairn’s conscience.
Yet she did stand, for it came to her mind that if it were already within her ability to raise his husk, then surely somewhere the knowledge must exist to reunite his cadaver with his spirit.
So it was that her child became the first of what would become a long column of the dancing dead, though it would be centuries before my Mairi followed.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.
Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/
Text and audio commentaries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.